A Sure Foundation

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 1:3

A Journey Begins

Carryduff Parish Church, named after St. Ignatius of Antioch, was consecrated on 2nd October 1965. The service of consecration was conducted by the then Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Right Reverend F J Mitchell. The preacher on that memorable occasion was Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, head of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchal Church in Great Britain and Ireland. Right from the start there is a link to the east.

The consecration was, of course, preceded – on 19th September of the previous year – by the laying of the foundation stone. This was a solid block of polished Mourne granite. It lies in the Jeremy Taylor Chapel at the west end of the building, and on top of it stands the baptismal font. Perhaps it is good to think of the font being supported by solid granite. That, arguably, must count as a sure foundation.

Preliminary Steps

All of this represents the flowering of a seed planted in 1950. That seed was a decision to establish a permanent place of worship in the Church of Ireland tradition to serve a growing population in the Carryduff area. This led, initially, to the holding of regular Sunday evening services in Sloan’s barn beginning in 1952. That fledgling congregation was fortified by a supportive group from Killaney; and a new parish was nurtured into life.

The next step was the building of a dual purpose parish hall, dedicated on 30th October 1954. That hall continues to provide valuable service to the life of the parish and to the larger Carryduff community. It was further extended by the development of a new hall complex, known as The Dean Good Memorial Hall, dedicated on 6th October 1990 by Bishop Gordon McMullan.

From Jerusalem to Antioch to Carryduff

It is scarcely surprising that the number fifty might be in our heads at present – fifty years in the life of a church building since its consecration. However, another very significant fifty comes readily to my mind.

In the Jewish calendar the feast of Pentecost occurred fifty days after the celebration of the Passover – and it was on the day of Pentecost that the apostle Peter, transformed and filled with conviction about the resurrection of the crucified Lord, stood up in Jerusalem to address a crowd, saying "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins". The text goes on to tell us that on that day about 3000 people accepted Peter’s message and were baptised (see Acts 2:14-41).

  • On that day the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles.
  • On that day the Christian Church was born.

Within a generation the Church had extended beyond Israel to become an international movement. The gospel message found its way to the gentile world and, specifically, to the city of Antioch in Syria. Here, a Greek speaking gentile community welcomed the apostles; and the city became an important base for the further spread of the gospel. Why is this significant for us in Carryduff?

St Ignatius of Antioch

It was in Antioch that our patron saint, Ignatius, came to accept and to expound the Christian faith. In 69AD he became Bishop of Antioch and remained there as bishop for forty years. His devotion to the faith and to the order of the Church brought him into direct conflict with the emphatically pagan Roman Empire. He refused to renounce his faith and was brought to Rome, sentenced to death by the Emperor Trajan, and mauled by lions in the Colosseum c.110AD (the precise date is unknown).

It is in the name of this peaceful and heroic martyr of the early Church that our parish church in Carryduff is dedicated. It is also significant that Antioch was the base from which Paul set out westwards into Europe on missionary service. It was, therefore, a place associated with outreach – and that, undoubtedly, has some significance for all of us today in Carryduff parish.

As an aside it is worth noting that Ignatius’ home town is still a major city, now known as Antakaya. It lies on the Mediterranean coast in eastern Turkey, near the border with present day Syria.

From West to East

The Christian faith came westward across Europe, eventually arriving in Ireland by the mid-5th Century. For us it could be said that the light of Christian revelation, like the light of the Sun, rose in the east. There is a great symbolism in this which finds expression in the physical layout of our parish church.

The church building was intentionally laid out on an east to west axis. As we enter the building through the Jeremy Taylor Chapel we are at the west end. It is symbolic that this is where the baptismal font is situated. The sun – the source of natural light – rises in the east. However, since the font is at the west, it is in that part of the building which is furthest away from the light. Therefore, when we enter upon the Christian life at baptism, we are far from the light.

Later on in our faith journey we proceed into the main body of the church and come closer to the light until, at the communion rail, in the east, the light of the sun – and the light of true Christian faith – comes more readily within our reach. We have travelled from west to east, from darkness to light.

The East Wall Hanging

The east to west layout is by no means unique to our parish church. It is, in practice, a well-recognised design feature of many churches within the Anglican tradition. However, we do have something quite special and unique in the sanctuary, adorning the east wall. I refer here to the marvellous wall hanging, which was dedicated at morning service on 3rd March 2002.

This is a most striking example of contemporary Christian art, reflecting in both content and design some of the themes of the two large kite shaped stained glass windows on the north and south walls of the church. The wall hanging itself can be imagined as an extension of the central passage from the baptistry to the sanctuary. In that sense it may be seen to represent part of the journey from darkness towards the light.

As we look at it we can see what appears to be a cluster of drumlins – little hills – woven into the fabric. I don’t think it fanciful to speculate that these might be intended to evoke for us the ups and downs of everyday life. Then, as we look up, we can discern the shape of a cross merging into a sunrise – merging into the source of light. Surely we are meant to see in this a representation of Godliness: God as the light of the world.

If we then look even further up we see a dove with a twig in its beak. The dove is, of course, a symbol of hope and love and reconciliation – a symbol, in all its fullness, of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is surely significant that we must look up – look towards the heavens, towards the source of light – to fully grasp the impact of this life changing message.

Then, significantly, if we cast our eyes back westward, towards the baptistry, we might notice that the carved oak cover on the font is also in the shape of a dove. In the thoughtful furnishing of the church the dove – the symbol of the Holy Spirit – is both before us and behind us. We are in the safe keeping of the Holy Spirit.

The Stained Glass Windows

The dove is also present as the central motif in the large kite shaped window in the south wall (right). It looks down benignly over the choir – I rather like that idea. It is surrounded by four panels displaying symbols representative of the four gospel writers.

Facing them, in the main window on the north wall (left), are four similarly sized panels. The two uppermost ones are an Anchor Cross and the more familiar Latin Cross, both of which are potent symbols of the strength and reliability of our faith. The two lower panels present a red heart – the symbol of St. Ignatius – and a Lily of the Valley, a symbol of humility and purity. The central motif in this window is a Fleur-de-Lys, its three stems – like the three leaves of the shamrock – symbolic of the Holy Trinity.

The two smaller windows, shaped as inverted triangles, present to us respectively a sheaf of corn and a chalice, together representing the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

In the centre of all four of these very striking windows there appears to be a rising pathway, tapering towards the top. The same tapered pathway appears even more distinctively in the east wall hanging. Is there a message for us in this? Could this be a subtle prompt to the congregation to look up from a sure foundation, towards the light?

Looking Upward, Looking Forward

The church, of course, is not just a building. It is a community of people. That community – of which we are all a part – comes together in a place set aside for public worship. In our church building we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by distinctive symbols of our faith; and it is also a feature of the layout of the building that the lectern, the pulpit and the holy table all appear to be close at hand. Whenever we look up – and look forward – we can see that God is not remote. He is within our reach.

We are, nevertheless, in a place from which we are called to reach out. This calling must embrace constructive contact with other local congregations and with the Carryduff community at large; and, crucially, it must involve mission outreach well beyond our home patch.

Yes, it feels good to celebrate fifty years since the consecration of the church building. This is our privilege; but we also ought to see the church as a centre for reconciliation and outreach; and as a place where children are welcomed as "little blessings" and nurtured with Christian love.

In a time of public scepticism – even indifference – we continue to have the same unchanging purpose to reach out with grace and faithfulness. Our way of doing so may need to adapt in order to attract or to encourage new people and to welcome a congregation with a different range of needs and aspirations. Our church must always try to be a place of its time.

However, we can be fortified in the knowledge that we have a sure foundation and that, in this church building, we are comprehensively and artistically surrounded by so many symbols of Christian faith.

Denis Carson – November 2015